Upon entering the sunny foyer of the NIH’s Natcher Conference Center last Thursday, I was immediately struck by a burst of loud, excited chatter. As it always is on NIH’s annual Summer Poster Day, the building was filled with hundreds of high school and college students and the scientists, families, and friends who had turned out to see what these young men and women had spent the summer doing.
As an impatient eater, I find myself burning or biting the inside of my mouth more often than I’d like. Fortunately, these injuries tend to heal within a day or two, whereas wounds like nicking my finger with a knife or scraping my knee seem to take a week or longer to disappear. My personal impressions have now been confirmed by a new NIH study that uncovered major differences in the way the mouth and skin repair themselves, pointing to potential therapeutic targets that could speed healing.
For most of their history, computers have been limited to mindlessly executing the instructions their programmers give them. However, recent advances have given rise to the intertwined fields of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, which focus on the creation of computer programs that can operate independently and even teach themselves to perform specific, specialized tasks. In 2013, the online PubMed database listed only 200 research publications related to ‘deep learning,’ a new type of machine learning that has shown success for particularly difficult tasks like object and speech recognition. Just four years later, in 2017, that number exceeded 1,100.
While many people can easily stop after a beer or two, for others one drink begets many more, ultimately leading to an addiction that drives continuously increasing alcohol consumption over time. New IRP research has identified a specific type of neuronal receptor involved in the development of alcohol dependence in mice, suggesting a possible approach to curbing problematic drinking behaviors in humans addicted to alcohol.
I knew very little about neuroscience before beginning my graduate studies, but the topic of neurodegeneration looked very interesting. Having applied to several labs, I landed a Ph.D. student position in a neuroscience lab at the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, a government research institute in India, that would propel me on my way to the NIH IRP. In the first year of my Ph.D. program, I learned several things about the central nervous system (CNS), but what intrigued me the most was its lack of ability to regenerate after injury.
The constant combat between cancer and the body’s defenses can wear a tumor out. Unfortunately, cancer cells can pause their life cycle to repair themselves before re-entering the fray with renewed vigor. According to new IRP research, preventing cancer from taking a time-out can make it more susceptible to attack by the immune system.
The NIH community and cancer scientists around the world were saddened to learn that Alan Rabson, M.D., a prominent former IRP researcher and Deputy Director of the NIH’s National Cancer Institute (NCI), passed away on July 4 at the age of 92.
Dr. Rabson first joined the NIH in 1955 as a pathologic anatomy resident in the NIH Clinical Center, which had opened just two years before, and he began studying cancer-causing viruses in an NCI intramural laboratory a year later. Over the course of his ensuing six decades with NIH, Dr. Rabson accumulated a great many stories, a few of which we have shared in his own words, pulled from a 1997 “NCI Oral History Project” interview.
Everyone has a different pain threshold; a plate that’s too hot for one person to touch might be easily handled by someone else, for example. Now, IRP researchers have found the first evidence that a person’s sensation of a painful temperature more strongly influences the body’s automatic response to it than does the actual temperature.
Hundreds of scientific studies have established that obesity often leads to severe health problems and cuts short many lives. Nevertheless, a significant number of obese people remain healthy despite their excess weight. A new IRP study has now identified a possible molecular marker that distinguishes obese but healthy individuals from those whose weight has negatively affected their health.
Research into the collection of microorganisms that live in and on our bodies — known as the microbiome — has dramatically expanded in recent years. In fact, the field is one of 12 domains designated as top long-term IRP research priorities. Since the establishment of the NIH’s Human Microbiome Project in 2007, investment in microbiome research across the IRP has increased over forty-fold and now occurs in dozens of labs across more than 20 institutes and centers.
Access to robust computing resources provides a critical foundation for advancing the wide variety of biomedical research taking place within the NIH’s Intramural Research Program (IRP). Whether performing molecular modeling simulations, generating whole-genome sequencing data, deducing the structures of biomolecules, or advancing drug discovery efforts, our ability to analyze large-scale biological and biomedical data strongly depends on our ability to employ computationally intensive approaches that produce interpretable results and advance translational efforts aimed at improving human health.
Like many research institutions across the nation, the NIH has faced difficulties with establishing a strong and lasting community of diverse investigators. We have made remarkable gains in recent years, however, in attracting and retaining a diverse workforce that's more reflective of the U.S. population.
One of many movers and shakers in this realm is Hannah Valantine, a cardiologist recruited from Stanford University who, in addition to maintaining a lab in NHLBI, is the NIH's first Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity. And one of her many ideas that the NIH Scientific Directors hope to adopt is the creation of a cohort program with both mentors and mentees committed to issues of scientific diversity and inclusion. Our goal is to guide this cohort of tenure-track investigators through the tenure process to be sure they have access to the mentoring, professional development, and networking opportunities to establish their careers, strengthen their science, and, in turn, recruit and mentor future generations of scientists.
The most important step to solving any problem is to choose the right tool for the job. Just like a heavy fur coat will keep you comfortable in the Arctic but slowly roast you in the Sahara, your immune system’s response can be helpful or harmful depending on the specific invader it’s fighting off. A new IRP study has identified a molecular “switch” that shifts an important type of immune cell between two different approaches to protecting the body.
The NIH Lasker Clinical Research Scholar Program, an initiative to support early-stage clinical researchers, has reached a milestone. First announced in December 2010, the program provides scholars with up to ten years of support: five to seven years as NIH tenure-track investigators, followed by three years additional funding at an extramural research institution, pending review, if they choose to leave the NIH. Our goal was to recruit a few scholars each year and have a “steady state” of 15 to 20 scholars on campus. We indeed are now up to 15 scholars, which meets this goal.
A fascinating statistic crossed my desk this month: Among U.S.-based institutions, the NIH has the highest representation of women scientists and engineers on filed international patent applications. I can believe it, and there’s a report documenting it from the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO), a UN-affiliated organization.
Barbra Streisand knows how to command an audience, whether she’s behind a microphone, a camera, or a podium. After a storied career beguiling theater-goers, Streisand’s new goal is not just to warm hearts but to save them from disease as well.
Theodor Kolobow, M.D., passed away on March 24, 2018. He was 87 years old. His contributions while at the NHLBI to the field of cardiovascular and pulmonary research fall nothing short of extraordinary, and include advancements in the development of artificial organs, and the pathophysiology of acute lung injury. Over the course of his career he was actively involved in the innovation and development of new dialysis machines, cuffless endotracheal tubes, and devices to prop open right-sided heart valves, thereby preventing left heart distention during percutaneous cardiopulmonary bypass. He designed special low-resistance endotracheal tubes to limit the necessary ventilatory pressure, in addition to endotracheal tubes that would help to limit bacterial colonization and methods for preventing ventilator associated pneumonias.
Is the Yanny vs. Laurel debate tearing your office or lab apart? Well, according to NIH IRP investigators, there's no true answer to what this word is. As brain expert Mark Hallett, M.D., of the NIH National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke puts it, "Perception is not reality, however real it seems."
It might seem easy to blame your parents for the way you turned out; after all, they raised you and gave you all of your DNA. But, before throwing blame around, consider saving some for the place where you grew up. According to new IRP research, being raised in an urban environment can dramatically alter how your genes influence your brain.1
NIH history is rife with legends, scientists who have made remarkable discoveries and incalculable contributions to the health and longevity of humankind. There are living legends; just peruse the “Honors” page on the IRP website to see what I mean. And there are greats who are gone but certainly not forgotten.